The Titans’ decision to block out a draw in the opening match of the 4-Day Franchise Series typified why South African first-class competition is inferior to the entertaining four-day cricket showcased by Australia and England, writes JONHENRY WILSON.
The Titans promised plenty at 124 for one before slipping to 140 for five but, after a rectifying 60-run alliance between Chris Morris and Henry Davids, were back on track.
Unfortunately, Morris’ departure forced the rest into a shell, which failed to do the three days of see-saw cricket prior any justice. Days one, two and three – and two-thirds of four – pledged so much better. The reigning champions must be questioned for such a conservative approach.
Without a headline sponsor after the exit of Sunfoil and marred by a 2017-18 campaign lined with 23 draws in 30 matches, South Africa’s premier first-class contest needed a positive result at SuperSport Park in Centurion.
Instead, coach Mark Boucher’s men rejected a reachable challenge, to rather not lose. A player of tenacity and fight and an ambitious coach, Boucher certainly surprised many by not insisting Shaun von Berg chase victory.
Captain Farhaan Behardien, of course, had a hand in the decision. Leading the side in the absence of Dean Elgar and Heinrich Klaasen, who are with the Proteas for the ODI series against Zimbabwe, Behardien hasn’t won more supporters. His fanbase is thinning in ODI and T20I cricket – and the few on offer at domestic level weren’t enamoured at Centurion. Klaasen and Elgar, in consultation with Boucher, would probably have proposed an ambitious later-order chase.
One was reminded of South Africa’s Test series opener against India at the Wanderers in Johannesburg in 2013, when all-rounders Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn were obviously instructed to block out a draw. The Proteas had done the bulk of the hard work in pursuit of a record 458-run fourth-innings target. But the dismissal of centurion Faf du Plessis saw the hosts get proverbial cold feet. With all of three wickets in hand and less than 20 runs to achieve in as many deliveries, the home side forewent the opportunity to win. Steyn’s straight six off the final delivery of the match made the draw that much tougher to swallow.
The Titans’ conservatism was all the more surprising, given upcoming participation in the Abu Dhabi T20 Trophy. A choice to exchange a safe draw for a heroic victory, at the rest of criticisable defeat, would have sent a message to fellow Abu Dhabi T20 Trophy competitors Hobart Hurricanes from Australia, Yorkshire Vikings from England, Lahore Qalandars from Pakistan and Auckland Aces from New Zealand.
The United Kingdom’s 2018 County Championship, Divisions One and Two, were competitive and result-driven throughout. Australia’s Sheffield Shield, no doubt, will bring the same. South Africa’s 4-Day Franchise Series, so far, has not. Whereas the Titans wouldn’t, the onus is now on the Cape Cobras, Knights, Warriors and Lions to forge a more positive mentality.
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